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Tsarnaev Friend Testifies: He Was Never Violent


Prosecutors are close to wrapping up their case against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was admitted to carrying out the bombing of the Boston Marathon with his brother. The defense will soon present its case. NPR's Tovia Smith has been following the trial and joins us now.

Tovia, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: And bring us up-to-date. What are prosecutors doing now to prove a crime that, after all, the defendant's already admitted to committing?

SMITH: Well, even though his lawyers have admitted he did it, the government still has the burden, legally, to prove guilt. So they're making sure to cross their T's and dot their I's. This week we heard forensic evidence tying the bombs and the bullets to the Tsarnaev brothers, tons of evidence about all the Islamist extremist writings and recordings from the brothers' computers and cell phones including what prosecutors called the penultimate - the bomb making instructions from an al-Qaida online magazine called "Make A Bomb In The Kitchen Of Your Mom" that shows exactly how to make exactly the kind of pressure-cooker bombs used by the brothers. Jurors also saw the message that Tsarnaev left in the boat where he was hiding that said that killing innocent Americans was justified because of Muslims killed by U.S. troops overseas. And all of this gets to motive, as prosecutors put it, a window into the life that Tsarnaev kept hidden even from his friends.

SIMON: And we've heard from one of his old friends on the stand. Any more coming?

SMITH: We expect to hear from one more and, it's worth noting, we've seen this cut both ways. When prosecutors called the friend who lent Tsarnaev the gun that was used to kill a campus police officer and in the firefight later, he also helped the defense make their case that Tsarnaev was just sucked into this plot by his brother and wasn't really such a committed violent extremist himself, because on cross examination this old friend also testified that Tsarnaev was a nice kid, he was one of the realist and coolest kids you ever met, he said. He was well-liked, popular. He was never violent. Defense attorneys also got this friend to talk about how Tsarnaev was intimidated by his older brother. So the defense definitely advanced its case there.

SIMON: And what insight do you have about the argument the defense might put on after all the charges that, as you note, they've already admitted to?

SMITH: Probably not much they can do. They admitted that he did it. They told the jury the only question is why. And as we've said, they're trying to make this case that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was under this powerful sway of his domineering brother and so therefore doesn't deserve the death penalty. But the judges said that argument needs to wait for sentencing. It's not relevant now when the only question is whether he's guilty. So all the defense can do is try and hint at it, this idea that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was just a follower. They're trying to show that it was Tamerlan who wielded the gun at the carjacking, it was Tamerlan who led the way down the street to the finish line. But again, there's a limit to how much they can do this kind of thing now, and so the whole defense will probably take just a day or so.

SIMON: And any expectation that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will appear as part of his own defense?

SMITH: We don't know. If so, more likely at sentencing. But really, we don't know where his head is at. We see zero emotion or affect in court. We have no idea whether he would show remorse or would reinforce this story that his attorneys are putting forward - in other words, whether he would help his case or hurt it.

SIMON: NPR's Tovia Smith, thanks so much.

SMITH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.